ICYMI-Breakthrough Blog: NRC revises previously issued subsequent license renewal for existing nuclear power plants

The surprising decision rejects long standing NRC decisions and undermines one of the Biden Administration’s key policy goals to reduce emissions

Berkeley, Calif. — On Friday, the Breakthrough Institute’s Associate Director, Nuclear Innovation Dr. Adam Stein and Senior Policy Advisor Rani Franovich published a new blog post outlining the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s surprising move to revoke three license renewal approvals issued in 2019, bowing to public pressure from environmental advocates who claimed environmental impacts were not considered sufficiently in the license renewals.

Dr. Stein and Franovich wrote, “This reversal was in response to intervention by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, Beyond Nuclear, and Miami Waterkeeper. The intervenors made several claims, many of which were dismissed. Ironically, one of these claims was that climate risk, such as rising sea levels, was not sufficiently considered during subsequent license renewal (SLR). Premature closure of operating power plants would be a huge blow to achieving climate goals, which would manifest itself in hastening climate impacts like sea-level rise, human health impacts and costs. Revoking the licenses for existing nuclear power plants undermines any progress toward achieving carbon emission goals.”

They continued, “Meanwhile, fossil energy production is the only likely alternative to fill the void of decommissioned nuclear facilities, further increasing carbon emissions. These very real environmental and public health impacts are conveniently ignored by both anti-nuclear intervenors, who proclaim to be environmental groups, and the NRC itself. The NRC is the only federal safety regulator that does not consider the potential benefit to society in its decisions, despite its mandate to ensure safe use of nuclear energy for the Nation’s general welfare and the common defense and security.”

Click here to read the entire blog post.

Specifically, this will affect the SLR’s for Peach Bottom and Turkey Point, which “will remain in effect but shortened to the end date of their first license renewal — early 2030’s instead of the SLR expirations in the early 2050’s. Functionally, this reverses the renewed licenses but avoids a new application process if the amended EIS is approved.”

According to NRC Chairman Hanson, this is not a technical decision on the environmental impact of operating power plants beyond 60 years; it is a legal, procedural decision related to the specific wording of the Generic EIS (or GEIS) for reactor license renewal.”

What does this go from here?

Dr. Stein and Franovich explain: “While the Commission did not rescind the licenses, as intervenors had hoped, its reversal does have other significant impacts. The license is effectively shortened unless (and until) a revised EIS is approved. The revised EIS will undergo a protracted rulemaking in which the same intervenors can submit additional comments and contentions, further delaying the rulemaking process. After all of that is settled and finalized (again), licensees must then apply the updated rule in a revision to their site-specific subsequent license renewals. Further delays could arise if the NRC commissioners do not vote on the rulemaking in a timely manner, of which there is a long history.”

What does this mean?

Dr. Stein and Franovich conclude, “This recent Commission decision has huge potential impacts to nuclear power plants that have renewed operating licenses. The general public will be forced to pay for those impacts in several ways. If the new rule is more complicated or costly, it could then force some power plant owners to reconsider the cost and regulatory uncertainty of applying for SLR.”

“These are not the decisions of a “Climate Agency;” they are the actions of a hubristic and myopic regulator that has not adjusted to the new reality: clean, safe nuclear energy is a vital component of climate change mitigation. The urgency of mitigation can ill afford time and resources wasted on bureaucratic waffling to the detriment of public health and safety and the environment. Moreover, the Administration and Congress must act swiftly to restore the Commission to a full, more balanced quorum.”

Click here to read the entire blog post.